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Port of New York and New Jersey was second-busiest port through May for first time in decades

For the first time in a long time, the Port of New York and New Jersey occupied the second place in the United States by volume sent from January to May. The Port of Long Beach in California has for a time been the second busiest port in the country behind its nearby neighbor, the Port of Los Angeles.

In terms of units loaded equivalent to 20 feet, also known as TEU, a standard measure of the volume of shipments, imports and exports that pass through the Port of New York increased by 4.3% during the same five-month periods of 2018 and 2019. The Long Beach TEU volume In contrast, decreased by 9%.

With only five months of data reported for 2019, Long Beach could claim its No. 2 ranking by the end of the year. The advantage of New York at the end of May was only 4%. And historically, Long Beach's import and export volumes have peaked in July, August and October, so their volume of shipments could surpass those of New York in the second half of this year. But Port Authority officials said it has been decades since New York was busier in the first part of the year.

On the downside to the southern California port, the shipping industry is navigating new market forces, particularly the trade war between the United States and China. Each country has imposed tariffs on products worth billions of dollars. From the west coast, Long Beach is more vulnerable to the fluctuation in the volume of shipments with the countries of western Asia. Although Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed not to impose more tariffs at the moment, since the two countries are discussing a trade agreement, the tariff battle does not have an end in sight.

Trade war is not the only driving force behind the change in ranking between New York and Long Beach. The elevation of the Bayonne Bridge, which was completed in 2017, has allowed large Panamax shipping vessels to reach the Newark and Elizabeth ports in New Jersey and the Howland Hook Marine Terminal on Staten Island. The New York railroads also provide an advantage, said Sam Ruda, port director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"The growth rate on the railroad on the west coast has slowed down," he said. "It's much more economically viable to cross the east coast, it's a function of the rail economy."

Ruda added: "That's not just a New York phenomenon, I think competing in the southern ports would say the same thing." Those ports include Norfolk, Virginia; Savannah, Ga .; and Charleston, S.C.

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